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Almost 20 years ago, a stranger called me, said she knew my father, she needed a Spanish teacher, and hoped I would be interested.
I was interested until the words “three to six-year-old” came out of her mouth. I kindly declined, emphasizing little ones were not my strength.
I loved and still love preteens and actual teenagers. I can joke about semi-obscure things, and they will get it or, if they don’t, they laugh anyway because they don’t want to embarrass me.
I can also roll my eyes back at them when they roll their eyes at me, and it doesn’t hurt their feelings like it does my husband. Teens and preteens are my people. Likely more so than adults.
Three to six-year-olds stare at me blankly and I at them when they raise their hand to tell me about a new puppy in response to a question such as, “How do you say red in Spanish?” I never know how to respond.
This stranger and director of a Montessori school wouldn’t let me off the phone. Instead, she wisely recommended I come visit for a day before I said “no.” I said okay because I hated disappointing people back then.
I went to the school, sat in the corner of a classroom full of those barely out of toddlerhood. It amazed me. I kept mentally asking myself, “What is this place?” “How is this possible?”
Before I left campus, I accepted the job. I semi-successfully taught really young children that year. More importantly was that I learned there was a different way of educating than what I had experienced as a child or as a teacher. I had fallen in love with the Montessori method of education. I still love it to this day.
Montessori isn’t foolproof. Nothing in life is. But there is close—and close counts. If it didn’t, I’d be screwed, not just educationally. Like in motherhood, for example.
When a mother gives birth and realizes there really is no manual for how to do the mothering thing, she learns it is quite a personal journey. Ironically, there are manuals upon manuals for those who want to be a Montessori educator, but it is more than just a method of teaching. It, too, is a personal journey and never quite so challenging as the one over the last nine or so months. (I wasn’t intending a metaphor here of nine months and pregnancy, but alas.)
I not only teach at a Montessori school, I own and direct one, and I have never felt both so alone and so connected throughout the pandemic. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try.
I’ve never felt so alone when drafting an email saying I was closing the school and moving out of state. I’ve never felt so connected when I called a friend and teacher who told me there was no way she would believe my little school would not exist because she believed in what I had created (or what we had created together–students, parents, and teachers).
I’ve never felt so alone when many longtime families left and freely expressed how I wasn’t doing the right thing by their children when I told them we would require masks indoors and out this school year. I’ve never felt so connected when the families who stayed on joined a community Zoom meeting, and we laughed until we cried.
I’ve never felt so alone when I emailed parents saying to please be careful over Thanksgiving and to quarantine if they choose not to follow safe CDC guidelines. I’ve never felt so connected when multiple families and teachers responded with gratitude for not being afraid to ask for such a thing.
I’ve never felt so alone walking into the schoolyard on one of our coldest days before students arrived. I’ve never felt so connected when a father of a student brought a heater for us to help us keep warm during our pandemic way of schooling—mostly outdoors.
I’ve never felt so alone when a member of our sweet school community texted to say they had tested positive for COVID-19. I’ve never felt so connected when school parents who are also doctors told me to call anytime day or night if I need help to decide what to do in such a situation.
I’ve never felt so alone and so connected. Another wise teacher and friend of mine told me we have to hold felt opposites in order for a third thing to appear. That third thing is like a child after giving birth. There is both excitement and excruciating pain during the birthing process, but the child who arrives is a gift we’d never say wasn’t worth it.
I hate the pandemic. I hate the hard choices and the hard phone calls I’ve had to make and the difficult emails I’ve had to send. I hate the late nights I’ve put in to make sure the school survives and the worry that someone will get sick because I haven’t quite done enough. I don’t like it one bit.
But I trust it, just like I trusted the birthing process of both my children. I even trusted the painful birthing process of the two children we lost. If I had lost the school, I would forever trust that too.
But the school is here, along with a pandemic. And, as I was teaching some students online today, one student mentioned she was sad Christmas wouldn’t be the same this year. I told her I was sad too. I then stole my aforementioned teacher’s lesson and asked all the kids to hold out one hand and to imagine putting the sad parts they are feeling in that hand.
I told them to not get rid of the sadness, but to hold up their other hand and add something they are feeling good about in that one. I smiled, secretly cried on the inside, and said, “See! We can do both. I wonder what this Christmas holiday will bring for us if we allow ourselves to feel the sad and the happy.”
They stared at me blankly, like preteens do. One child spoke up, “The hand that held the sad felt heavy, and the other one felt really light.”
He continued, “If we didn’t have sad, we wouldn’t know what happy would feel like.”
From the mouth of a babe. The children are our teachers.
If I didn’t have alone, I wouldn’t have connection. And I’ve had a hell of a lot of aloneness these past months. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. For without it, I wouldn’t have experienced the connection I long for each day.
And just like I learned how there is a different and magical way of educating, I have learned through my life journey that there is a different and magical way of living. Being able to hold both the excitement and the excruciating pain of life continually allows for the birth of something new.
We don’t know how all this will end, but I can guarantee you something magical will show up if we allow for both the pain and the gratitude of what we are experiencing.
The next time you are struggling, I encourage you to hold up a hand and hold in it all that is heavy, sad, and sh*tty. Then, hold up the other, fill it with the opposite of whatever that is for you, and wait. See what shows up and please share with me how it goes.